We asked Certified Pro Photo Manager Steve Durgin to join us for our webinar series, Career Advice from the Pros, to talk with us about how to get started as a Photo Manager.
When oil prices dropped low in 2015 and layoffs were imminent, Geophysicist Steve Durgin decided to take a serious look at his options.
He also wanted to make a real impact on people’s lives and continue learning new things. His ideal career was a service that people valued, allowed him to have a flexible work schedule (in the comfort of a t-shirt), and provided a good income.
In 2017, hurricane Harvey hit Steve’s hometown of Houston, Texas and he suddenly realized the urgency of protecting his own photos in case of future disasters. While researching how to digitize his own collection, Steve soon decided that photo management was what he had been looking for. By 2021, it was his full-time career.
Steve is well known for his unique workspace! Instead of asking clients to ship their collections to him, Steve decided to convert a trailer into a mobile office so that he could work on scanning and digitizing projects on-site.
Beginning with a shift from a completely unrelated field, Steve grew his business, Memories 4ever, into the successful digitizing company it is today. Let’s find out how Steve got started and what he’s learned along the way.
What has surprised you most about changing careers?
I didn’t realize how much I would get into people’s lives and learn about them. I’m seeing old weddings, births of babies, their birthday parties, and their graduations. Then another wedding and grandchildren. You really get to know the people and I wasn’t expecting that.
That was one of my criteria for a new career, that it would really make a difference and impact people’s lives, which it does. And that’s why I really like doing the old reel-to-reel films and videos because a lot of people haven’t seen those in 30 years. When people see a movie from 40 years ago that they haven’t seen or don’t remember, it really makes an impact on their lives.
How have you found your clients and put the word out about the services you offer as a Photo Manager?
My first client was pretty easy, it was me! I started slow with families and friends. And since then it’s sort of been an evolution.
At first, when I started, I was worried about getting clients. I went out and built a website, set up Google business, a Facebook page, an Instagram page, Yelp, Thumbtack, then NextDoor. Then I started writing blogs, and I had to post on Facebook, and I had to post on Instagram every week… It was overwhelming and I wasn’t seeing a good return on my investment. So I took a step back and asked, “What’s my focus going to be?”
There are two demographics in my target audience, the 30/40-year-olds, and then over 60. I also decided I was going to focus on the three zip codes around my area. I started talking to people in that demographic, and asked them, “How, how would you find a digitizing service?” Overwhelmingly people would say, “Google search it.” So I dropped off all the other stuff and I focused on Google. I found a place to take an inexpensive course called Udemy, and I learned how to use Google effectively.
Not everyone should focus on google but you need to ask the following questions: What are you? What are your clients? Who is going to be the customer that you’re focused on? Then, focus on what’s going to make an impact.
What services do you focus on? Have you expanded your offerings as clients’ needs have arisen?
I made the decision to digitize as much as I possibly could. I started off digitizing films, VHS tapes, all the camcorder tapes, audio, slides, and pictures.
I then started getting a lot of people asking about photo restoration. And for a couple of months, I said no. Then I started looking into that and now I offer photo restoration. I’m now starting to offer photo books as well.
Do you outsource to other photo professional photo managers in your area or other companies?
I outsource to other Photo Managers and Fiverr. It’s a global network and its prices are pretty low. There’s no way I could compete with them in price, so I tried three or four different people to try to get to the right person. Now I have built up relationships with some people on Fiverr- one lady in Pakistan, and another gentleman in Bangladesh. And so I outsource the work to them.
What is something that you don’t like about being a Photo Manager?
The hard part for me has been pricing, especially when people want a discount. People would call and say, “Why is a big box competitor cheaper? Can you match their price?” In the beginning, I’d say yes but I often found myself feeling resentful. Why did I say yes? The people who want the biggest discount also were often the most difficult to work with. Now I say, “I can’t match them on price and they can’t match me on quality and service. You choose.” The people who want quality hire me, the others don’t and that’s OK.
What skills do you think from your past work experience or life experiences have helped you be successful?
Without question, my understanding of how lifelong learning is critical. I did it in my former career, and do it here. There are so many different formats, and there’s so much to learn about them. So the value of lifelong learning is what I brought with me, and what I wanted in a new career too.
How has membership in The Photo Managers and being part of this community helped you in your business?
So the first real reason I joined The Photo Managers was to get credentials, I wanted to get that little blue circle stamp and be able to put it on my website and my email. This also helped me to convince myself that I could do this.
The real benefit is the knowledge you get. Just yesterday, I asked a question in the member’s-only Facebook group about something I didn’t understand, and I got that instant response. Every time you read something in the Facebook group, you learn something. Another thing I’m starting to do is to respond to questions. That forces me to do a little research and if you teach somebody, that’s when you really learn.
I also enjoy networking with people so you don’t feel like you’re on an island and not connected. In a corporate environment, I was used to having people around, so membership helps with that.
What advice would you give to somebody who’s just getting started?
Don’t just read a book and think you have to create all these sites (Instagram, Facebook, Nextdoor, etc). Really understand your audience and focus. Talk to people and make sure you get to know them. This helped me discover a whole other group that I was missing- people who know they need to digitize but are not actively searching to have it done. When I talked to these people, initially I would give them my business card, and say, “Okay, well, when you get ready, then please contact me.” And that was the end of it. I don’t recommend that.
Now, what I do is say, “Let me share how to store things properly.” So I’m a little bit sneaky, but I coach them on where to put stuff. At the same time, I’m giving them a picture of the potential disaster and so often they say, “Okay, well I really should do this” and then we have more of a conversation. To me, it doesn’t feel like selling because I’m really trying to help them. I don’t want them to be the next person on the TV talking about how they lost all their photos.
I also put together some packages to help people. I call it “People, Pets and Special Places”. If they have a person, a pet, or some special place, I’ll digitize those and separate all the rest. That helps people because a lot of them just have boxes. So I try to be more thoughtful and get people to understand the problem.
We thank Steve for joining us to share his career advice, and for being such an inspiration to both new and experienced Photo Managers!
Watch the full interview below where Steve also answers questions from the audience about equipment, his self-made mobile workspace, and more!
Takeaway #1: To get started as a Photo Manager, think about who the clients are that you want to work with. Interview some people in that demographic to find out where to focus your marketing efforts.
Takeaway #2: Niche down by location! Steve works in just three zip codes within the Houston area.
Takeaway #3: Don’t try to be all things to all people. Do what you love! If clients ask for more, consider outsourcing to provide these services.